The Candidate Experience? Survey Says, That Frankly, It Stinks

Illustration by Dreamstime.

I’ve got two college-age kids in various stages of their first real job search, and I find myself saying the same thing over and over to them: don’t expect to hear much from all those companies you apply to.

That’s because I’ve found, over my many years of work, that the way most companies treat job candidates has deteriorated to the point that you’re lucky if you even get an acknowledgement of your application much less any personal feedback on your qualifications for the job at hand.

And you know what? Most of you out there feel pretty much the same way.

I was thinking about this while scanning the results of CareerBuilder’s latest survey that found — surprise! surprise! — that “more than one in four workers reported that they have had a bad experience when applying for a job …  (and) the vast majority (75 percent) of workers who applied to jobs using various resources in the last year said they never heard back from the employer.

“Negative implications for today’s employers”

One of the big issues with so many job candidates never hearing back when they apply for a job is the expectation on the part of so many that responding to a job application — a common courtesy, one would think — is that a simple response is the least that an organization can do for their applicants.

That’s hardly the case, however.

CareerBuilder’s survey found that a whopping 82 percent of workers “expect to hear back from a company when they apply for a job regardless of whether the employer is interested, (and) nearly one-third (32 percent) of workers said they would be less inclined to purchase products or services from a company that didn’t respond to their application.”

And, the survey’s analysis makes this critical point:

While this speaks to the challenges of finding employment in a highly competitive market, it also brings to light negative implications for today’s employers. The survey shows candidates who have had a bad experience when applying for a position are less likely to seek employment at that company again and are more likely to discourage friends and family from applying or purchasing products from that company.”

So, what makes for a bad candidate experience? The CareerBuilder survey asked this as well, and the scary thing for me is that I have personally experienced almost all of these.

Things that bothered job applicants

The survey found that 26 percent of workers say they have have had a bad experience as a job applicant, citing a lack of follow through, inconsistencies from the employer, or poor representation of the company’s brand as the primary culprits. Some of the specific issues mentioned by candidates:

  • Employer never bothered letting me know the decision after the interview – 60 percent.
  • Found out during the interview that the job didn’t match what was written in the job ad – 43 percent.
  • Company representative didn’t present a positive work experience – 34 percent.
  • Company representative didn’t seem to be knowledgeable – 30 percent.
  • Employer never acknowledged receiving my application – 29 percent

“From the second job seekers are viewing your job ad and applying to your company, they are forming an opinion of who you are as an employer and as a business,” said Sanja Licina, Ph.D. and Senior Director of Talent Intelligence at CareerBuilder, in a press release about the survey.

He added: “One bad applicant experience can have a ripple effect with candidates not only vocalizing their dissatisfaction with how they were treated, but encouraging others not to apply or even buy products from that company. It’s so critical that your employment brand effectively carries through at every touch point with candidates.”

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The CareerBuilder survey also mentioned some companies that were found to provide “a consistently exceptional candidate experience across their organizations.” They singled out Shell Oil Company, MB Financial Bank, Pinstripe and Baptist Memorial Health Care for the “timeliness of response to applications and follow through, candidate’s assessment of how knowledgeable the company’s recruiters are and how well they represented their company brand, whether candidates would recommend the company or apply again, and other factors.”

Does the “candidate experience” really matter?

So, here’s the big question: is the candidate experience really all that important?

I think it is because I believe that how you treat people in situations like this says a lot about your organizational values and purpose. Any company can treat  top candidates well, but how they act toward the great nameless, faceless mass of people who come to them really speaks volumes about how they treat not only those who actually do get hired, but how they probably treat their customers as well.

My friend and savvy HR pro Tim Sackett, however, takes a different view. He feels that all this talk about the “candidate experience” is nonsense. As Tim wrote here once on TLNT:

The best companies to work for don’t worry about “The Candidate Experience” because of these reasons:

  • If you’re a great company to work for – your “Candidate Experience” doesn’t matter – people will come anyway.

Now, before you HR pros get all worked up – listen! I’m not saying to treat people like garbage because you know you’re great and they come anyway. The fact of the matter is, if you’re great you probably have a “Candidate Experience” that is already “good enough,” so go and worry about something else that’s closer to the business.

  • If you’re not a great company to work for,  your “Candidate Experience” is not your biggest issue, so go focus on the real problems.”

Bad experience = major organizational issues

Tim makes some good points here, but still, I’d like to think that having a good candidate experience would be something that organizations would strive for and be proud to have. Treating people well is always a good business (and HR) practice.

But Tim also had this piece of pragmatic wisdom that I can’t argue with, and it probably explains why the “candidate experience” is destined to be something that companies continue to ignore and that job seekers continue to gripe about. As Tim puts it so frankly:

Let’s face it, if you have a bad “Candidate Experience” you probably have some major cultural issues to deal with in your organization. How hard is it to get your HR team and hiring managers to treat people with average respect? If you can’t do that, “The Candidate Experience” is the least of your worries – or should be.”

John Hollon is managing editor of Fuel50, an AI Opportunity Marketplace solution that delivers internal talent mobility and workforce reskilling. He's also the former founding editor of TLNT and a frequent contributor to ERE and the Fistful of Talent blog.